In the movie Crossroads, Ralph Macchio beats the Devil by returning to his roots. He plays what’s in his heart—highly trained classical guitar combined with the blues and rock he loves.
At a similar crossroads, KRCL 91 FM, Salt Lake City’s only still-independent radio station, has found that a similar mix of high-brow intelligence and good, honest music keeps them safe from the devil of corporate radio. Sticking to their roots has saved them from the porridge-like mainstream of everything else on the dial.
“People have called us an oasis,” says Donna Land Maldonado, KRCL’s program director and host of Le Cafe Folk (Wednesdays, 9-11:30 a.m.). As a Native American woman, Maldonado calls the station’s programming a touchstone. “I turn on the Native American program on Sunday and it validates my existence. It takes me home and says it’s OK to be what you are where you are.”
The station was founded 20 years ago by Stephen Holbrook. Its first home was above the Blue Mouse Theatre, and after a year of “freezing in the winter and roasting in the summer,” says Maldonado, the station moved in with the Community Action Center, where it was were housed until Jan. 1. That day, KRCL moved into its new building at 230 S. 500 West—only a precursor of things to come. In 2001, KRCL will move again, this time into a building it owns. The station’s home will be part of the Bridge Projects, a mixed-income living and market space created by Art Space developer Stephen Goldsmith.
“KRCL is the first to occupy the Bridge Projects; we’re just a stone’s throw away from our permanent home,” says Sandi Terry, director of the capital campaign. “Being part of the Bridge Projects allows us to revitalize this neighborhood and be a voice for the multicultural communities that exist here—and bring back some of the communities that used to exist here before they were pushed out.”
The station currently operates on a half-million dollar budget, with about 13 percent of that coming from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the rest from listener support, area businesses and charitable foundations. It needs to raise $1.5 million for the new facility by December 2000. To date, $640,000 has been pledged; generally, about 70 percent of the pledges are actually received, Terry says. For instance, the Eccles Foundation pledged a $350,000 matching grant; KRCL can only collect those funds if it raises the matching amount. Plans are to break ground on the new building in June.
“The great thing about capital campaigns for any non-profit is that it’s a way to [raise] funds in a short time,” Terry said. “This is hard for KRCL because [we’re] taking on a huge project on top of everything else, with the same amount of staff. It’s exciting and thrilling, but it’s been hard. We’ll take this money, make KRCL’s sound strong … and ensure that KRCL will always be here.”
With everything from folk, blues, ska and industrial to Latin American, Asian and Native American music making its way to the airwaves, that vision of creating home for a variety of Salt Lakers seems clear. Indeed, music anymore seems less about experiencing one person’s (or band’s) artistic endeavor, and more about how we express ourselves as individuals. If that is true, the encroaching threat of on-air homogeny becomes all the more insidious; and an independent musical voice proffering diversity becomes all the more critical.
“There aren’t a lot of people who want to listen to talk radio and infomericals 24 hours a day, but there are also a lot of people who are fed up or bored with commercial radio,” says Doug Young (a.k.a. the Iceman, 6-9 a.m. Mondays), KRCL’s music director. “I’ve heard rumors that the average play list in Salt Lake on a commercial station is between 30-40 cuts a week—that means they’re playing the same list over and over again. It’s the same cut off an album each time, too. On the other hand, at KRCL during any given 3-hour stint you’ll probably hear 30 different artists.”
In fact, although the volunteer DJs are allowed to set their own play lists (as long as the music’s within the genre of their designated shows), the unwritten, yet unbreakable rule is to stay away from contemporary top-40, if not top-40 altogether, Young says. “It comes down to the responsibility of individual programmers to maintain the station’s mission statement.”
And it’s that musical diversity that seems to bring the community together, attracting simultaneously thousands of dollars in donations from the Eccles family, and thousands of hours of volunteer time from folks without their own foundations.
Kathy Hayden has been volunteering at KRCL for around seven years. She began volunteering with her partner Paul, a longtime KRCL volunteer and board member, who died last year. Kathy has done everything from helping with the Radiothon, to re-covering the waiting room couch in KRCL’s new building.
KRCL has about 150 volunteers, many of whom have stayed as long as 10 years, Terry says. When it came time to move in January, it took 40-50 volunteers only five hours to move the entire station. And much of the work done on the new building was donated. Formerly a run-down office and self-storage, the station’s new home boasts about $120,000 worth of fixing-up, completed for about $10,000. Their volunteer electrician alone donated some 600 hours worth of work.
KRCL continues to struggle toward community by crossing cultural and economic lines. Locating, literally, across the tracks, combined with locating musically across all kinds of tracks, moves them one step closer to a figurative gathering place for a divided city.
KRCL’s Spring Radiothon takes place March 6-14; the fund-raising goal is $130,000. Highlights include a local-music show to open the drive from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. on March 6; a Rolling Stones program March 11 at 8 p.m.; and the All-Dead Special, featuring music from artists no longer alive, from 7 p.m. to midnight March 13. You can call KRCL at 363-1818, log on at www.krcl.org, or tune in at 91 FM.